Health care quality and patient safety have become increasingly important in recent years, particularly as part of efforts to prevent wasteful spending, hospital readmissions, and medical errors. Accountable Care Organizations (ACO), health information technology (HIT), electronic health records (EHR), and new health plan reporting requirements are among the many efforts to address those issues. The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ) also has released a series of free surveys and toolkits for medical offices, hospitals, and nursing homes to help them assess and improve their patient safety practices.

The latest in the AHRQ’s series is a safety toolkit for pharmacies. The toolkit includes a survey asking pharmacy staff members for feedback on 11 topics, including physical space and environment, patient counseling, communication about prescriptions across shifts, and teamwork. The survey also comes with a handy user guide, data entry and analysis tools, and technical support.

Safety Toolkit Pilot Study:
In addition, the AHRQ released results from 55 pharmacies that tested out the agency’s survey in 2012. The report notes that its sample was not representative of pharmacies nationwide, but the findings are nonetheless worth mentioning:

  • 78 percent of pharmacies had medication therapy management services to identify and resolve medication-related problems
  • 44 percent offered screening and wellness services related to asthma, diabetes, heart disease, and smoking cessation
  • 76 percent of pharmacies compounded medications on-site, and of those, 93 percent compounded only simple prescription drugs
  • Nearly all pharmacies had some system for keeping track of errors, and one third had entirely paper-based tracking systems
  • 53 percent did not report errors to an external program
  • Those who did report errors did so to several different programs, including the Institute for Safe Medication Practices (ISMP) Medication Errors Reporting Program (MERP), the FDA Safety Information and Adverse Event Reporting System, or a different federally certified Patient Safety Organization (PSO)

E-prescription Systems Widespread:
The AHRQ pilot study also demonstrated the prevalence of electronic prescriptions. Almost all of the pharmacies in the study were able to receive electronic prescriptions (eRx), and 95 percent had an automated system for patients to request refills. Only 49 percent of them, however, had a scanner to import paper prescriptions into a pharmacy computer.

The Institute of Medicine, Medicare, and new federal eRx standards have encouraged providers to use electronic prescribing because it is less prone to error than paper prescribing. According to one national study, the number of prescribers using e-prescriptions increased from 234,000 in 2010 to 390,000 in 2011.


Kip Piper is a Medicare, Medicaid, and health reform consultant, speaker, and author.  A senior consultant with Sellers Dorsey, a national healthcare consultancy, as well as an advisor with Fleishman-Hillard and TogoRun.  Kip Piper advises health plans, hospitals and health systems, states, drug and device manufacturers, and investment firms throughout the U.S.  For more, visit  Follow on Twitter at @KipPiper and connect with Kip on LinkedIn.